When we joined a Presbyterian church in 2011, my wife and I were faced with the decision of whether to baptize our children or to be “conscientious objectors” to the Reformed doctrine of infant baptism. I dedicated myself to a study of the question over the next two years, reading many book-length treatments of the issue from both credobaptist and pedobaptist perspectives, as well as chapters on the subject from many systematic theologies on both sides.
At the end of those two years, I had become persuaded of the covenantal infant baptism position, but felt there was no single concise, accessible, and convincing resource on the topic to which I could point inquiring friends and family. I had even set out to write a book about it myself—I may still finish it some day—but then I discovered Daniel Hyde’s Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children.
Hyde hits all the right notes in under 100 pages (in fact, the core of his argument fits in under 40 pages). He does a great job demonstrating the implications of covenant for the issue of baptism and the connection between the two important covenant signs of circumcision and baptism. I especially appreciated his section showing why anyone who believes in baby dedication should affirm infant baptism instead.
On the whole, this is the best single resource I know of for understanding covenantal infant baptism, and the irenic and winsome tone throughout makes me comfortable sharing it with friends and family of all backgrounds. This is the book I wish I had read first.
The Covenant of Grace
First up, Hyde does a great job explaining covenant theology, the bedrock for covenantal infant baptism. The basic logic goes like this: if the old and new covenants are essentially one and the same covenant of grace, and if baptism is a sign and seal of the new covenant in the same way that circumcision was the sign and seal of the old covenant, then we should place the sign of baptism on our infant children just as the sign of circumcision was placed on infants.
I found Hyde’s explanation of the word sacrament helpful. “Sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, which was “an oath of allegiance by Roman soldiers.”1 The very word we use for sacred ordinances like baptism is rooted in the idea of covenant! What is remarkable in Hyde’s view is that this oath is not ours to make to God, but God’s oath made to us. As he points out, Romans 4:10–11 tells us Abraham’s circumcision was the seal of a righteousness imputed to him by God because of his faith. So as we talk about covenant, it’s important to keep in mind we are not talking about a covenant we enter into with God, but a covenant God enters into with us. God is the prime mover here, as in every other sphere.
Spending an entire chapter, Hyde shows persuasively from Scripture that the covenant God made with the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets is synonymous and continuous with the new covenant we are members of in the New Testament era. His key passage for showing this is Romans 11:11–24, where Paul explains that the Gentile church has been grafted into the same olive tree with Israel. Just as Ephesians 2:11–22 teaches, there are not therefore two peoples of God with separate covenants and promises, but one people of God united in the same covenant of grace. Among many other passages, Hyde also cites Galatians 3 where Paul teaches that if we are Christ’s then we are Abraham’s offspring and heirs with him to one and the same promise.
Circumcision and baptism
Hyde also convincingly establishes the biblical link between the old covenant sign of circumcision and the new covenant sign of baptism. He provides a number of scriptural parallels between circumcision and baptism:
- They are both initiatory rites signifying and sealing (confirming) entrance into a covenant with God.
- In both, the outward aspects symbolize inward realities—circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28–29) and baptism in the spirit (Acts 1:5; Titus 3:5).
- They both symbolize the putting away (cutting away or washing away) of sin.
- Both also symbolize curses for breaking the covenant. Circumcision symbolizes being cut off from God and the covenant community (Genesis 17:14).
- Baptism corresponds to Noah’s flood by which the whole world was judged (1 Corinthians 10:1–6; 1 Peter 3:20–22).
- They both symbolize death and resurrection, putting off the old man and putting on Christ.
In addition to these parallels, Hyde shows most importantly that circumcision and baptism are directly equated in Colossians 2:11–12.
The proper subjects of baptism
Following from the connections between the old and new covenants and between circumcision and baptism, Hyde comes to the question of who are the proper subjects of baptism. If our children are still members of the covenant the way the children of believers were members of the covenant anciently, then they should have the covenant sign of baptism placed upon them just as the covenant sign of circumcision was administered anciently.
Hyde proceeds to argue that our children are indeed members of the covenant, fully owning that he is making an argument from silence:
. . . after the people of God placed the sign of the covenant on their children for two thousand years, an explicit revoking of this practice is necessary if this practice is to end. Continuity between the Old and New Testaments exists unless the New Testament states otherwise by revoking a practice. Those who deny infant baptism have labeled this an argument from silence. But the silence is deafening! Arguments from silence are not weak arguments when it can be demonstrated that the reason for the silence is an assumed truth.2
But although Scripture may not make explicit statements, Hyde demonstrates a number of passages that imply or infer that children are still in the covenant. In addition to a careful study of passages describing household baptisms and the oft-cited statement that children of at least one believing parent are holy in 1 Corinthians 7:14, two important passages Hyde uses are Ephesians 6:1–4 and Colossians 3:20. In these passages, Paul teaches that children are still obligated to keep the commandment to honor their parents, which obligation implies they are members of the covenant community. Hyde calls special attention to the phrase in Ephesians 6:1, “obey your parents in the Lord,” arguing from the way “in the Lord” is used elsewhere that it can only mean they are in Christ and therefore in the covenant.
Baby dedication or infant baptism?
One chapter I found especially intriguing is concerned with baby dedication. This is something I’ve never come across in any of the books I’ve read on the subject, but it immediately struck me as an obvious and important topic to cover in a book like this.
Hyde points out that the four biblical examples for baby dedication (Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:11, 24–28; Samson, Judges 13:3–5; John the Baptist, Luke 1:13–17; and Jesus, Luke 2:22–24) were each exceptions to the norm, and were all done in addition to circumcision. Hyde claims these examples of baby dedication actually serve as further evidence that children should be baptized in the new covenant. At the very least, one cannot make a valid argument from these texts that baby dedication can or should replace the covenant sign.
I have only one gripe about this book. Coming from a credobaptist background, the only thing that could have convinced me (and ultimately did convince me) of the validity of pedobaptism is Scripture. Hyde’s book is, as I hope I have already shown, thoroughly biblical, but in a few places he appeals to various authorities outside the Bible for support of his position.
First, throughout the book he frequently quotes Reformed confessions and catechisms such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism. Sometimes he is careful to state that these are secondary sources, but other times he seems to quote them as if they are primary authorities in and of themselves. Now, I love these documents, and have personally come to see them as faithful distillations of Scripture (I would self-identify as a confessional Presbyterian), but Hyde’s not infrequent use of them weakens his argument with Baptists and non-denominational Christians who pride themselves on being “people of the book,” never appealing to extra-biblical sources for a defense of their faith and practice.
Second, Hyde includes a chapter of quotes from early church fathers, but most of the fathers seem to have in mind something closer to the Roman Catholic view of baptismal regeneration when they comment on infant baptism. Hyde’s point in bringing up the quotes is simply to show that infant baptism has been around since the earliest days of the church, but he has to do so much explaining that this point gets lost in the weeds, so to speak. I fear some will see this chapter as an appeal to tradition or human authority, though I am certain that was not Hyde’s intention. I’ve read other reviews that say they found this section very helpful, but I wish he would have stuck to quoting the Bible instead of venturing into this territory.
My one complaint aside, this is the best resource on infant baptism I have found. It is inviting and conversational in its tone and thoroughly scriptural and persuasive in its arguments. If you read only one book about covenantal infant baptism, make it this one.